Thursday, January 31, 2008

U.S. Birth Rate Booms

Below is an article of interest concerning the US birthrate and abortions. Bear in mind that the reduction in surgical abortions is being partially offset by the increase in drug-induced abortions. Nevertheless, the US birth rate has gone up.

The United States welcomed 4.3 million babies in 2006 — the most in 45 years. Births were more common in almost every age, racial and ethnic group, and global data show the U.S. has a higher fertility rate at 2.1 — more than every country in continental Europe, as well as Australia, Canada and Japan.

A new report by the Guttmacher Institute, the reproductive-health research organization of Planned Parenthood, also shows that the number of abortions being performed in the U.S. has dropped to 1.2 million a year — the lowest level since 1976.

Quoted from Pastor’s Weekly Briefing, January 17, 2008. © 2008, Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs, Colorado. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Short Term Thinking

I have been following the campaigns of the various candidates for president, because I feel it is important to be informed. I listen to what the candidates are saying and pay attention to the polls supposedly indicating what is important to the voters. I am disappointed at what I see.

The emphasis has swung from the war in Iraq to the economy. However, both the war and the economy, while important, don’t have the long-term effects of other, more critical issues facing us. The war and the economy have a sense of urgency, and are absolutely critical if you have a loved one in Iraq or you are facing a personal economic crisis. I don’t want to minimize or trivialize those personal aspects of the war and the economy.

Nevertheless, looking at things from a more strategic and national level, we are about to be in serious trouble in a number of inter-related areas, yet those aren’t at the forefront in these campaigns – probably because they aren’t as “urgent” in people’s eyes.

As I’ve mentioned before, the most serious long-term crisis facing us is the inter-related issues of enormous oil consumption, air pollution, dependence on countries that hate us, and the uncontrolled use of a critical non-renewable resource (oil). While we don’t like the effects of $100 a barrel oil, that is the tip of the iceberg. If we don’t act now, we could face a crisis of unimaginable proportions down the road.

Other serious issues are lack of affordable health care for many, social security, crumbling infrastructure, terrorism, and the loss of manufacturing capacity and jobs. We as a nation have to decide whether we will continue on the downhill slide to Third World status, or will make the changes necessary to be great again.

I don’t want us to be great for the sake of greatness, but to be great so that there will be less poverty, less uncertainty, greater opportunities, and a more just society. As part of that greatness, I would like to see us draw closer to God, become a more moral and ethical society, have fewer out-of-wedlock births and fewer abortions, restore the family by eliminating no-fault divorce, and clean up the entertainment industry. Government can’t do these – only we the people can. If we don’t as a nation draw closer to God and stop allowing atheists to eliminate God from society, then I hate to think of what will become of us.

If God allowed his chosen people to be taken away from their homeland into Babylonian exile, will he spare us from the inevitable results of our apostasy?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Cell Phones – Again

This post has nothing to do with religion, spirituality, or beliefs – just common sense, good judgment, and consideration for others.

The cell phone may be one of the most useful, as well as one of the most annoying, inventions in recent history. I was at the deli counter recently when a woman’s cell phone rang. She answered it, then another call came in. She told the first caller she’d call back, then told the second caller she’d call back. Meanwhile, progress at the deli counter ground to a halt while she’s juggling her calls.

What’s wrong with this picture? First of all, when a person is involved with other people, transacting business, or doing something requiring concentration (like DRIVING!), then the cell phone should be turned off or put on vibrate so as not to annoy others. You can always check your messages and call bank later. NOTHING is that urgent unless you are an EMS first responder or fire fighter.

It scares me when I see women talking on a cell phone while attempting to maneuver a huge SUV around a parking lot (or even worse, in traffic). It annoys me when I see somebody cradling the phone and having a conversation when trying to pay at the checkout counter. It irritates me when I’m forced to listen to someone’s conversation on a bus or while waiting in line.
What’s the answer? Turn the phone off when driving (especially), transacting

Saturday, January 26, 2008

What the Bible Says About the Beginning of Life

Below is an article of interest that may put the sanctity of life into perspective for you:

The Bible is far from silent on the topic of the sanctity of human life, especially preborn life in the womb:

Q. Why Should We Value Life?

A. “Know that the LORD Himself is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture” (Psalm 100:3, NASV).

“Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, and the One who formed you from the womb, ‘I, the LORD, am the maker of all things, stretching out the heavens by Myself, and spreading out the earth all alone . . .’” (Isaiah 44:24, NASV).

“But now, O LORD, Thou art our Father, we are the clay, and Thou our potter; and all of us are the work of Thy hand” (Isaiah 64:8, NASV).

Q. Who Is the Creator of the Preborn?

A. “For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works and that my soul knows well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed, and in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them” (Psalm 139:13-16, NKJV).

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5, NIV).

Q. How Is God Concerned With the Preborn?

A. But when He who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through His grace . . .” (Galatians 1:15, RSV).

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for giving us through Christ every possible spiritual benefit as citizens of heaven! For consider what he has done—before the foundation of the world He chose us to become, in Christ, His holy and blameless children living within His constant care” (Ephesians 1:3-4, PME).

Q. Are the Preborn Human Beings?

A. “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit…[saying] ‘As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy’” (Luke 1:41, 44, NIV).

The Lord Jesus Christ began his incarnation as an embryo, growing into a fetus, infant, child, teenager, and adult: “While they were there, the time came for the baby to born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son” (Luke 2:6-7, NIV).

Q. Who Is Responsible for Life and Death?

A. Then God spoke all these words, saying . . . ‘You shall not murder’” (Exodus 20:1, 13, NASV).

“I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19, KJV).

Q. Are Humans Permitted to Take Life Before Birth?

A. “If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise” (Exodus 21:22-25, NIV).

Q. Should a Child Conceived as a Result of Rape or Incest Be Aborted?

A. “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their fathers; a person shall be put to death for his own sin” (Deuteronomy 24:16, NKJV).

Q. Should a Child Who Might Be Born Deformed or Disabled Be Aborted?

A. “So the LORD said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the LORD?’” (Exodus 4:11, NKJV).

“Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘He has no hands?’ Woe to him who says to his father, ‘What have you begotten?’ or to his mother, ‘What have you brought to birth?’ This is what the LORD says—the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: Concerning things to come, do you question Me about My children, or give Me orders about the work of My hands?” (Isaiah 45:9-11, NIV).

“Yet, to shame the wise, God has chosen what the world counts folly, and to shame what is strong, God has chosen what the world counts weakness” (1 Corinthians 1:27, NIV).

Q. How Should A Woman View Her Body and the Preborn Life Growing in Her Womb?

A. “Behold, children are a gift of the LORD; the fruit of the womb is a reward” (Psalm 127:3, NASV).

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, NKJV).

Q. Does God Forgive Those Who Have Had Abortions?

A. “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace . . .” (Ephesians 1:7, NKJV).

“I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25, NASV).

by Carrie Gordon Earll, Senior Policy Analyst for Bioethics at Focus on the Family and a fellow with the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity. From Focus on My Family e-newsletter, dated 1/18/08. Copyright © 1999-2008 Focus on the Family, all rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

This Is Art?

In an earlier post I spoke on the entertainment industry. Since there is minimal control over the content of what it produces (either external or internal controls), the quality of their product leaves a lot to be desired in the area of decency. They resist any form of censorship because what they are doing is “art” and free expression is essential.

Calling TV programs and movies “art” is a stretch, in my opinion. They are artistic in some ways, but when they contain graphic sex, violence, drug use, horror, “disturbing images,” foul language, and nudity, they cease being art. They become a form of pornography, with the goal to titillate, scare, shock, or otherwise cause an audience reaction that is not good.

Now I admit that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I believe free expression in public media should be somewhat controlled (preferably self-controlled). The Constitution guarantees free expression so citizens can freely protest against the government without fear of censorship or other limitations or penalties. Free expression has now been carried to ridiculous extremes so that any kind of garbage can be put on the market and called entertainment, art, whatever, supposedly protected by the Constitution.

Much as I don’t particularly favor censorship, I believe we have gone too far in the area of “free expression.” The entertainment industry does not self-police because they have no incentive to do so. We need to do something that gives them an incentive. We have to, since some music lyrics are appalling (kill the cops, women are whores, etc.), some electronic games have graphic sex and violence, some movies are just plain awful, and much of TV continues to be a vast wasteland of mediocrity. Decades ago Newton Minnow, head of the FCC at the time, I believe, called TV a “vast wasteland.” And that was during TV’s “Golden Age!” Can you imagine what he would think today!?

Those who want more decency should not support those movies and other products that are worse than PG-13 (or the equivalent). We also shouldn’t support movies or other entertainment that are PG-13 or better but have content that we find inappropriate, such as ridiculing people of faith, for example. Let’s impact the entertainment industry where it counts – in the pocketbook. Who knows? We might begin to see better quality and more decency in its products. We can hope!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Cleaning Up the Entertainment Industry

What happens where the literature and entertainment industries are basing their products strictly on what produces the most profit? The quality sinks to the lowest common denominator, which we are seeing today. That’s why Jesus calls us to be salt: we are to act as a preservative to prevent this kind of corruption in society, because God wants us to lead righteous lives. We as Christians are to work to eliminate corruption, not only in individual lives, but also in society so as to make it more upright and fair.

Christians are criticized for doing this, being told we are imposing our morals on an unwilling public. However, it is the media, the entertainment industry, the makers of games, and the publishing industry that are imposing their lack of decent values on the rest of us. Why are they doing this? Because it sells. Again, appealing to the lowest common denominator that gives them the best profit margin.

When a decent movie does come out, it often doesn’t last very long in the theaters. For example, I wanted to take the church youth group to see the Veggie Tales movie on last Friday evening. However, it was only showing in the afternoon, no longer in the evening, after only one week in the theater. And it’s playing in only one theater in this whole area. Why? Because people typically don’t support these kinds of movies.

So we as Christians should vote with our attendance, avoiding the bad movies and supporting the good ones. We have no right to complain about the entertainment industry when we don’t support the “good” movies, we allow our kids to buy and play inappropriate games (they do have sex and violence in them, in case you didn’t know), and we don’t monitor what they are watching on TV or doing on the Internet. We have nobody to blame but ourselves.

Since the entertainment industry is in business to make money, they’ll peddle the products that people will buy. So let’s take the kids to see Veggie Tales and other decent movies, and let’s stop supporting the trash that is polluting our kids’ minds.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Jesus said that his followers are to be salt and light in the world. Jesus told his disciples (Matthew 5:13a, 14a, NLT): “You are the salt of the earth.” and “You are the light of the world.” The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was salt and light in many ways.

A way in which we can be salt is through various outreach ministries and social action to improve quality of life. Displaying God’s compassion and kindness by our actions is a good and appropriate thing for Christians to do. However, the gospel must also be clearly communicated, in addition to social action and public involvement by Christians. Social action has its place, but is temporary. Saving people’s souls lasts for all eternity.

Martin Luther King, Jr., was salt and light to a dark world of hatred and oppression. He communicated the gospel in his preaching as well as in his actions, shining the light of Jesus to all who would hear. At the same time, he struggled to reduce oppression, to have justice for all citizens, and to provide equal opportunities regardless of race. Yet he did this without encouraging violent protests, rioting, or any means that would bring shame to Jesus Christ, whom he served. Dr. King was salt of the earth because he was acting as a preservative to reduce the corruption of hatred and bigotry, and he did it in the name of Jesus.

Not everybody is called to activism, but everyone can, in some way, protest against injustice, oppression, and evil. Let us remember these words of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoken in 1958: “He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Post-Denominational Age?

In a recent post I reproduced an article on Mormonism that I thought would be of interest. In that article, the author, Noah Feldman of the New York Times, states: “Our post-denominational age should be the perfect time for a Mormon to become president, or at least the Republican nominee.”

I want to focus on his use of the term “post-denominational age.” I believe in many respects we are in a post-denominational age. When mentioning to “denominations” I’ll be referring to Protestant denominations, such as Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Reformed, and others. Although we may be in or approaching a post-denominational age in Protestantism, there is still a large divide between the two major divisions of western Christianity: the Roman Catholic Church and Protestantism. Those divisions run deep in the areas of loyalty to the pope, and matters of theology and practice, so we are not in a “post-denominational age” when it comes to the Roman Catholic-Protestant divide.

Denominations do continue to exist in Protestantism, but appear to be less relevant in a number of ways. For example, among the fastest growing churches are the so-called independent or non-denominational churches. There are many charitable or benevolent organizations that have denominational origins, but are now inter-denominational ministries. Today, people who grew up in a certain denomination think nothing of attending a church of a different denomination.

Moreover, I suspect most Protestants are either unaware or don’t particularly care about the theological uniqueness of any particular denomination. Many choose a church for reasons other than theology or denomination. More important to them are other considerations, such as location, youth programs, pastor, friends in that church, worship style, music program, special ministries that address their needs, Bible studies, etc.

The way things seem to be going, I suspect that the current denominations may eventually split along liberal-conservative lines. We are already seeing the Episcopal Church in the U.S. on the verge of dividing. After these splits have occurred, these new denominations may then re-form along conservative and liberal lines. So, for example, the liberal Episcopal Church, separated from its conservative Episcopal counterpart, could conceivably merge with the liberal Presbyterian Church, the liberal Methodist Church, or the liberal Lutheran Church. The conservative churches would do the same, resulting in several of new denominations formed out of the remnants of the former ones. The good news is that these newly-formed denominations should be less prone to internal strife (hopefully!) compared to the conservative-liberal struggles that are currently tearing churches apart.

I’m not saying that I see this as desirable, but I see it possibly happening if current trends continue.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Article on Mormonism

Below is an article of interest concerning Mormonism. As I’ve said before, I don’t agree with the Mormon faith on a large number of points, and I don’t believe they can be called “Christian” because they deviate significantly from apostolic Christian belief. Nevertheless, I respect their values and their discipline, and don’t have a problem with a Mormon candidate for any office as long as he or she is qualified, and I agree with his or her positions on most issues of importance to me.

What Is It About Mormonism?
By Noah Feldman, New York Times, 1-6-08

Our post-denominational age should be the perfect time for a Mormon to become president, or at least the Republican nominee. Mormons share nearly all the conservative commitments so beloved of the evangelicals who wield disproportionate influence in primary elections. Mormons also embody, in their efficient organizational style, the managerial competence that the party’s pro-business wing considers attractive. For the last half-century, Mormons have been so committed to the Republican Party that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints once felt the need to clarify that Republican affiliation is not an actual condition of church membership.

Yet the Mormons’ political loyalty is not fully reciprocated by their fellow Republicans. Twenty-nine percent of Republicans told the Harris Poll last year that they probably or definitely would not vote for a Mormon for president. Elsewhere, the reasons for the aversion to Mormons are harder to pin down — bigotry can be funny that way — but they are certainly not theological. A majority of Americans have no idea what Mormons believe. Mormonism’s political problem arises, in large part, from the disconcerting split between its public and private faces. The church’s most inviting public symbols — pairs of clean-cut missionaries in well-pressed white shirts — evoke the wholesome success of an all-American denomination with an idealistic commitment to clean living.

Yet at the same time, secret, sacred temple rites and garments call to mind the church’s murky past, including its embrace of polygamy, which has not been the doctrine or practice of the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or LDS, for a century. Mormonism, it seems, is extreme in both respects: in its exaggerated normalcy and its exaggerated oddity. The marriage of these opposites leaves outsiders uncomfortable, wondering what Mormonism really is.

Quoted from “The Media Roundup”, an electronic newsletter published by The Interfaith Alliance Foundation, 1/7/08.

Monday, January 14, 2008

More Comments on the Article

In an earlier post, I commented on an article entitled “Keep My God Out of Your Politics” by Andrew Greeley, published in the Chicago Sun-Times on 1-2-08.

In that article, where he condemned the “Religious Right” for taking into consideration a candidate’s religious beliefs, he did say something I want to comment on. He wrote: “Having lived for seven disastrous years with a president who assumes that he has immediate access to the deity, many of us would be uneasy about politics reinforced by religious self-righteousness.”

I admit that Bush has been a disappointment. His going to war against Iraq flies in the face of every “just war” rationalization I have ever read. To me he has brought disgrace to the God he claims to serve, the Nation he swore to protect, and on the Republican Party, which lost both houses of Congress on his watch (although the do-nothing Republicans have a lot to do with the loss as well).

I would never vote for a candidate solely because of his or her religious beliefs. To me, religious beliefs are just one part of the equation, and I believe that is true for most rational voters. The Bush experience has reinforced my belief that we must always look beyond religion and beyond even those one or two issues that are very important to us. I believe a voter must be informed, and then look at the complete picture: the candidates’ relevant experience, voting record, leadership ability, morals, ethics, and positions on a wide range of issues.

When I say we must look beyond those key issues that are important to us, I am referring to some voters who are single-issue voters. For example, the war, abortion, gay rights, the environment. There is a wide array of issues beyond those that if they aren’t addressed soon, this country will cease to exist as we have known it, and will be reduced to Third World status. So who becomes president is critical, and it transcends religious beliefs, race, ethnicity, gender, and ability to make a good speech.

Please pray for this country – that the right leader will emerge, and he or she can effectively address the critical issues facing us in the 21st century.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

One View of the Nation

Below is an article from the Chicago Sun-Times, with my comments following:

Keep My God Out of Your Politics
by Andrew Greeley, Chicago Sun-Times, 1-2-08

The United States is not and has never been a Protestant nation or a Christian nation, despite some of the claims made in the course of our history by Protestants ignorant of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The identification of their campaigns with Christianity (in one form or another) is a form of idolatry because it equates a political program with the sacred. Thus, both the Mormon and the Baptist minister candidates equate their version of Christianity with a conservative Republican perspective. That excludes secularists, agnostics, atheists, Jews and Catholics (and Mormons too) from the discussion. It also in effect establishes a religious requirement for political office. The secularists, agnostics and atheists are screaming bloody murder. Catholics find such arguments distasteful and generally stay out of them. Yet some of us, having been called idolaters often, don’t like it when we see faith reduced to a partisan political program and candidates assuring us that God is on their side. Much less are we enthused by a claim that God and his angels are supporting a certain candidate. Can a Catholic vote for a Mormon or a Baptist minister for president? There is nothing in canon law to prohibit such votes. Whether they would is another question altogether. Having lived for seven disastrous years with a president who assumes that he has immediate access to the deity, many of us would be uneasy about politics reinforced by religious self-righteousness.

Quoted from “The Media Roundup”, an electronic newsletter published by The Interfaith Alliance Foundation, 1/7/08.

Some comments on this article:

In the article’s first sentence, the writer is both right and wrong, in my opinion. He is right in saying “The United States is not and has never been a Protestant nation or a Christian nation” in that the Constitution clearly forbids the establishment of an official state religion. “Religion” in the 1700s referred to what we call today a “denomination” so the Constitution was saying in effect that no Christian denomination is to be the official state religion: not Catholic, not Anglican, not Presbyterian, not Lutheran.

The writer of the article is wrong in that at the time of the American Revolution and for many years thereafter, the nation’s population was overwhelmingly Christian, and mostly Protestant. As more Roman Catholics immigrated to the U.S., Protestants as a percent of the population shrank, but the nation was, and is still is, overwhelmingly Christian.

Because of the forethought of the Founding Fathers, people are free to practice any religion and worship as they want. Jewish people, while discriminated against in many ways, were still free to worship, and did so freely, with no governmental interference. Other religions were established in this country, and were free to worship (such as Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, and Christian Science).

While I have a problem with much of what the writer of this article said, the only other one I’ll comment on is his statement that “The identification of their campaigns with Christianity (in one form or another) is a form of idolatry.” As I’ve mentioned before, all people vote their values, whether they be secularists, agnostics, atheists, Jews, Catholics, Mormons, conservative Protestants, or liberal Protestants. Any person’s values are informed by their background: often their religious background and beliefs, sometimes cultural (with culture often heavily influenced by that society’s religion – such as in Islamic countries), occasionally ethnic, often their education, and generally by life experiences and upbringing. So of course a voter is going to look at a candidate’s values and the source of those values. So saying that voters looking at a candidate’s religious beliefs is idolatry is ludicrous and shows a gross intolerance for conservative Christians who take their religious beliefs and values seriously.

I’m not saying there should be some sort of religious litmus test, but I do believe that voters have the right and duty to understand each candidate: his or her values, beliefs, policies, voting record, education, experience, and other qualifications. While I admire Rudy in many ways, for example, his personal life is a disgrace, and I wouldn’t vote for him because I question his ethics, morals, and judgment. If he takes marriage vows made before God so lightly, how would he honor the oath of office?

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Word Made Flesh

In the first chapter of the Gospel of John, he uses of the term “Word” to describe Jesus. The Apostle John seems to talk about Jesus in a poetic way – I guess John was a poetic kind of guy. But John’s use of the term “Word” to describe Jesus wasn’t just poetic. He used the term “The Word” because it had rich meanings to both the Greeks and the Jews.

These philosophical meanings are pretty deep, but when John used that term “Word”, his readers of that day understood exactly what he was saying. What I want to do is look at the term “Word” in a less philosophical way, but in a way that helps us understand one of the things God was doing by the Incarnation.

First let me ask, What are words? Words are expressions of hidden thoughts. Our thoughts are unknown to anybody until we express them in words, thus revealing what had been formerly hidden. Similarly, we can’t even begin to comprehend God unless somehow he is revealed to us humans in a way we can understand.

Jesus became a “Word” to reveal the hidden God to us. Jesus is God made available – when you know Jesus, you know God. God became one of us – he dwelled among us – so that we could observe and understand him at our level. Just as thought and word are one, so Jesus and God are one, as Jesus himself stated in John 10:30: “The Father and I are one.” Jesus told Phillip in John 14:9b: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

God came down to us on that first Christmas – the Divine met the human – and they became one in Christ. We, too, can meet the Divine when we have a relationship with Jesus. We don’t just believe in him – we have a personal relationship with him. That’s because he is a Person, not an impersonal being or some kind of concept or philosophy. God in Jesus became one of us so that what was formerly hidden could be more fully revealed – revealed in a way we could understand.

We celebrate not only God’s coming to earth, but perhaps even more importantly, what Jesus accomplished for the human race by his life, death, and resurrection. “The Word became a human and lived among us. We saw his glory — the glory that belongs to the only Son of the Father — and he was full of grace and truth.”

That’s what makes Christianity different from other religions. We believe God came down to earth from his heavenly home, lived as one of us, died a sacrificial death and paid the penalty for our transgressions, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven. We believe we can have a personal relationship with God, and we don’t have to earn our way to heaven. Those are the beliefs that make us different.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Hope in the New Testament

We can understand hope in the New Testament sense as a firm assurance about things that are unseen and still in the future. As made obvious in the New Testament, if anyone puts their trust in Jesus, they can have that firm assurance that can be found nowhere else. When we trust in Jesus, we don’t have to trust in our good works or following the law to get to heaven – Jesus did it all.

So faith in Christ gives us this hope, which can come only from God, and which is not just wishful thinking. That hope talked about in so many passages in the New Testament is a confident expectancy, or what we might call “assurance.” Assurance of what? Assurance that God is with us now, is available to help us get thru this life, and it is a guarantee of eternal life in heaven with him.

How do we know for sure? We have God’s revealed Word, and we have the promises of God – which give us hope. Jesus came to give hope to the hopeless – a spiritual assurance never before seen on the earth.

The Christian understanding is that God loved us so much that he came to earth, leaving his heavenly home, to live as one of us. He ultimately went to the Cross so that we could have that hope which I have been talking about. While all your problems won’t magically disappear, you will be able to deal with them much better than before. Why? Because now you are walking in faith – having God with you and giving you strength and hope that only God can give.

This original Christmas gift of Jesus was given to you by God himself, so that you might have life, and have it abundantly – not necessarily materially, but certainly spiritually. Once you have that hope – that blessed assurance – then you will also experience God’s peace and joy, and the fullness of God’s love.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Iowa Results

The Iowa results were interesting to me for a number of reasons. First of all, Obama came out as the Democratic winner. The fact that he did so well tells me that perhaps some of those old prejudices are going away. Despite being black, white people voted for him. Presumably despite the claim he isn’t “black enough,” some number of African Americans must have voted for him.

Second, the fact that Hillary came in third tells me that many women chose not to vote for her. Rather than voting based on gender, they voted based on other factors. This is good because people seem to be focused on issues, not on race or gender.

On the Republican side, the media had gleefully predicted the demise of the so-called “values voters,” those who look at a candidate’s morals, ethics, and values, and his or her positions on issues that are important to them (such as abortion, gay rights, pornography). Of course everybody votes their values, but “values voter” is a code word for Evangelical Christians of conservative persuasion. What I just said is not redundant, because there are Christians who are theologically evangelicals yet are liberal when it comes to many of these social issues. The media doesn’t understand this, and I don’t think even realizes there is also a Religious Left, not just a Religious Right. But I digress.

On the Republican side, Huckabee won, showing that values voters are alive and well. Hopefully they voted based on his positions on various issues, not just on his faith. The fact that Romney came in second shows that formal religion for many is not as important as values, morals, ethics, and policy positions. I believe this is a good sign. Let’s see what happens in New Hampshire.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Hope for the Hopeless

Jesus came to bring hope to the hopeless, but not in the way the people expected. Let me try to put Jesus’ birth (which we just celebrated at Christmas), life, death, and resurrection into perspective.

Jesus did not free the Jews from Roman rule, as they had hoped the Messiah would do. He did not get the land back to its rightful owners after many of them lost their land due to high taxes. He did not restore the nation to its former glory. Despite displaying all kinds of supernatural powers, he even ended up being executed as a common criminal, disgracefully on a Roman cross.

If Jesus didn’t accomplish what the people wanted, then what did he do? The fact is, Jesus accomplished what God wanted, not what the people wanted. While the people didn’t get what they wanted, God had something better for them. That something better is eternal hope by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

We have to understand that Jesus did not come to establish an earthly kingdom in the usual sense, as he clearly explained to Pontius Pilate in John 18:36:

“My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over ... But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” NRSV

Although Jesus didn’t establish an earthly kingdom, he did give people hope. More on that hope in a future post.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Most Americans Believe Bible Stories

Below are the results of a survey taken to determine whether Americans believe certain Bible stories.

Most American adults believe that the stories they read in the Bible can be taken as literal truth, not merely as stories told to communicate life principles, according to the latest Barna Update.

Three out of four adults (75%) said that they believe Jesus Christ was born to a virgin, Mary, as described in the gospel narratives.

Seven out of ten adults (69%) embraced the story of Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana as being literally true.

Two out of three people (68%) view the Bible story of Jesus using five loaves of bread and two fish to feed five thousand men, and then collecting 12 baskets of leftovers, as factually accurate.

Most Americans (64%) have no trouble believing that the planet-altering flood actually happened, in which Noah, his family and numerous animals were spared by building and then living on a giant boat for several months.

Fifty-six percent of adults believe that the story of the devil, disguised as a serpent and tempting Eve to sin by eating the forbidden fruit, is literally true.

Only half of the population (49%) accepts the story of Samson, one of the judges of ancient Israel, losing his legendary strength when Delilah seduced him into revealing that his hair was the source of that strength and that he lost his strength when she has his hair cut.

For the complete survey, visit

From The Pastor’s Weekly Briefing, 12/20/07. Copyright © 2007, Focus on the Family